The people’s Bard
The last time I spoke with director Khimberly Marshall about her MacBeth Project—the plan to produce Shakespeare’s play once a year for five years—she and her team were gearing up for a staged reading to see if the audience at Celebration Arts would embrace the company’s first Shakespeare production in its 33-year history. Embrace it they did, with standing-room only both nights of the reading.
Although the original plan was to see the first full production staged in 2020, audience excitement and community support fast-tracked that goal for Marshall and assistant director Karen “KT” Travis. After a month of rehearsals and a huge labor of love, they will open the first full production this weekend.
Travis, who is also a Celebration Arts board member, says that the project offers the community a chance to “stretch,” both as a challenge for actors new to Shakespeare and as an educational opportunity for audiences. The production is also one that looks to stretch Shakespeare by incorporating African music, step dance, drums and other elements to further the Afro-centric aesthetic Marshall has designed to build ownership.
“What separates people from Shakespeare is when you aren’t having mutual conversation, mutual dialogue with audience members,” Marshall says.
The project’s commitment to creating dialogue can be seen in the array of partners who have joined Marshall. The Sojourner Truth Art Museum has helped curate the collaborating artists; the Northern California Film Coalition is preparing a recording for possible distribution; and a financial sponsorship from Ma Series Arts has helped support rehearsal and production costs for this first full production. They’re also joined by a web of volunteers and donors who have been eager to share their time and resources.
Travis says the support comes from a genuine community investment. “You’ve got people interested also in the background, which is exciting,” she says. “Suddenly you’ve got somebody to make flyers, and a DJ! People want to be involved.”
In a town where most professional theaters are still disproportionately white (in casting but also notably in the decision-making artistic staff), and in a culture where Shakespeare is seen as elitist, the success of the MacBeth Project and its ambitious vision is noteworthy.
“Art cannot belong to one group, it has to be part of a cohesive ecology of art through long term investment from the community,” Marshall says. “We want to make Shakespeare accessible to everyone who wants to appreciate it.”